Italy PM confirms trust in Salvini in Russian funding case

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte addresses the Senate on allegations that The League party sought Russian funding, in Rome, Tuesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME (AP) — Italy’s prime minister has reiterated his trust in Matteo Salvini, his interior minister and head of the League party, addressing parliament on allegations the League had sought Russian funding.

Speaking Wednesday to the Senate, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Rome’s relations with Moscow have always been tied to national interests and have never been influenced by single political forces.

Salvini’s associate, Gianluca Savoini, is under investigation by Milan prosecutors for alleged international corruption stemming from reports he discussed a financing plan during a meeting with Russian officials in Moscow last year, months after the right-wing League came to power in a coalition government with the 5-Star Movement.

Salvini has repeatedly denied taking money from Russia.

Conti said “there are no elements that could undermine my trust in all my ministers.”

The Italian premier confirmed that Savoini participated in a mission to Moscow in July 2018 as part of Salvini’s delegation, but stressed that Savoini “has never received any official task from the government.”

Conte was interrupted several times by loud protests from the opposition benches, while most of the 5-Star lawmakers deserted the premier’s speech to protest Salvini’s absence from the chamber.

“This case could have been closed with just a few words, but it needed Salvini’s presence,” said 5-Stars Senate whip Stefano Patuanelli.

Salvini has snubbed repeated calls to address the allegations against the League in parliament, downplaying the whole Moscow funding case as “fantasy.”

At the end of Conte’s speech, the centre-left Democratic Party announced it will present a no confidence motion against the interior minister, accusing Salvini of “running away from his responsibilities.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.